A Letter from the NAMI-WC Board

Dear NAMI-WC Friends,

Next year, 2024, will mark the 40th anniversary of our NAMI-Washtenaw County affiliate. In that time our organization has grown from a small but mighty group of volunteers manning a telephone hotline and hosting a support group, to an organization that has raised over $1 million and provides education and support services to over a thousand individuals each year – with 9 staff, our first ever Executive Director, and a board of directors in addition to our many volunteers. 

We have expanded our area of service from Ann Arbor to the broader Washtenaw County, including Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Chelsea, Dexter and Manchester. The services we offer and activities we engage in have grown to include legislative advocacy, housing advocacy, and educational outreach. We have joined forces with local non-profits in the areas working on issues of mental and physical health, housing security, dispute resolution, and criminal justice reform. Our work, and indeed our organization, has been funded by local and national non-profits as well as the Washtenaw County Public Safety & Mental Health Preservation Millage, and, of course, generous donations from those who care about mental health and wellness. 

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and look ahead to our 40th year, we, as the Board of Directors, are taking a moment to reflect on all that this affiliate has accomplished in its long history and where it can still go. Key to this is our hope that this organization will balance the unique grassroots, volunteer-led character of the organization with our rapidly growing and professionally-directed structure to multiply our impact in the County. Our affiliate has earned its standing as a leader in the state in so many ways and can continue to be an innovator for decades to come.

The last few years have shown us quite a bit about our versatility and resilience, as well as the areas in which we may now want to direct our attention. Below, we have outlined some of the key features of our organization as it stands in 2023, as well as some findings that have helped to shape our collective vision-setting for the future. 

We invite you all to read this short report and then attend the July 12 meeting of the Board of Directors at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom for a conversation about what lies ahead and how we can all work together to lay the foundation for another successful 40 years!

Organizational Structure

Most volunteers are involved with one–perhaps two–of our three activities, and some know a few of our staff or board members, but the breadth of our organization makes it difficult for everyone to truly know each other–and be aware of all that goes into making NAMI-WC run!

Like the majority of NAMI affiliates across the Alliance our affiliate engages in three major activities: education (e.g., presentations at hospitals, schools, colleges; classes including Family-to-Family, Peer-to-Peer); advocacy (e.g., legislative campaigns and local partnerships); and support groups (e.g., Friends and Family, Connection Recovery). All of these service areas are volunteer-led and driven.

The strength of our organization lies in the people who volunteer, participate in groups, and do the behind-the-scenes work to allow the organization to thrive.

Our Executive Director and paid staff have made our growth possible. They make sure that we are in line with NAMI National policies, that we are funded for all projects, that our group leaders have administrational and promotional support, and that we can continue to offer our services to the public. The members of our staff manage our various programs, coordinate our volunteers, answer phones and email, curate our media (and social media!) content, ensure we have a working budget, write grants to raise funds, and keep our office running. Our ED is also the “ambassador” for our organization: they represent us in the community, increase the visibility of our organization, and serves as the voice of our membership.

Finally, our affiliate is governed by a Board of Directors whose members include volunteers with a variety of professional and technical areas of expertise. Their charge is to ensure that the affiliate’s programming and other activities are in line with the organization’s mission, and to ensure that it has all necessary resources to operate. Once a month, they meet together with the ED to discuss ongoing projects, authorize the hiring of new personnel, plan for future projects, develop a strategic plan, and help secure funding.

Where We Hope To Go

In 2022, we reached out to volunteers and staff to solicit feedback on the following areas: our organizational strengths and weaknesses; opportunities for growth; and challenges to our ability to function. What emerged–fairly consistently–was the following: 

  • The strengths of our organization are the programs we offer from a place of genuine compassion and knowledge through lived experience.
  • The areas that need our attention are high turnover among volunteers and staff, the need for a sustainable fundraising strategy, a more diverse volunteer pool and outreach to more diverse parts of the County.
  • Finally, there is tremendous enthusiasm for a variety of opportunities for NAMI-WC to extend or expand our work to advance our mission of improving the lives of people living with mental illness. We received a truly fantastic range of ideas for future directions for the organization ranging from developing a model unarmed crisis response team to building a peer wellness center and paid navigators for people working with local healthcare systems.

Retention: Volunteers, Personnel, Board 

As a Board, we are charged with helping to ensure that NAMI WC has the resources it needs to meet its current needs and in anticipation of our future goals. It is apparent from the feedback we received to this survey that there are two primary areas that will need our attention if we are to meaningfully address our challenges and threats, build on our strengths, and work towards our opportunities:

  1. The diversification and stabilization of our revenue stream. At the moment, NAMI-WC relies largely on fixed-term grants from organizations whose generosity has helped sustain years of our affiliate’s work. We cannot rely on these sources for all our plans, however, and, we need to expand our pool of donors and granting organizations if we are to make any of the ideas you have identified a reality.
  1. Retention, recruitment and diversification of our volunteers and personnel. Many of you have expressed the desire for NAMI-WC to reach out to more people in the County: racialized minorities, youth and older adults, first-generation Americans, and low-income residents of Washtenaw, included. To do this very important outreach and ensure that our affiliate can address the needs in our County, we need to work to make sure that our volunteer pool and staff reflects the people we wish to serve and enjoys a sustained commitment on the part of all those who help fulfill our mission.

To that end, earlier this year, we authorized our ED to hire a new development coordinator whose purpose is to help ensure a stable and diverse revenue stream to support the many needs and ideas of our volunteers and staff; the new development coordinator, Marybeth Bauer-Martinez. We encourage you to say hello when you see her at events! 

We have also authorized the hire of a new Program Coordinator. They will work closely with our volunteer program leads to oversee recruiting and training volunteer and staff program leaders for NAMI-WC programs. Additionally, they will organize the logistics and execution of NAMI-WC training in partnership with program leads of support groups and educational classes.

We are also pursuing strategies to recruit new and diverse members to the Board, pursue more targeted fundraising with upcoming events, and facilitate some of the new ideas that have been proposed.

As we reorganize parts of our affiliate to be in line with these two overarching objectives, we imagine that there will be many questions about how this focus will impact existing programs and ones that are still in the pipeline. We invite you to join us online on July 12 to ask your questions and discuss your thoughts with us. We will continue these conversations in the fall, during our October Volunteer Appreciation Event, and by spotlighting some of our newest initiatives in our upcoming newsletter. Finally, in the fall and winter, members of our Board’s Strategic Planning Committee will meet with our staff and program leads to discuss aligning our activities with our two key priorities and how best to support you in the process.

We hope to see you soon!


The NAMI-WC Board

Lois Maharg (President)

Gizem Yagci-Kestly (Vice President)

Patricia Streeter (Secretary)

Mark Creekmore (Treasurer)

Oliver Cameron

Lisa Fabian

Chuck Hughes

Renée Ragin Randall

One thought on “A Letter from the NAMI-WC Board

  1. Congratulations on 40 years and going strong! So many lives have been impacted for good over that time, not to even mention the ripple event! I was blessed to have attended the Family to Family Class and to become a facilitator until I started working full-time in the medical field (Internal Medicine) in 2016. Bless each of you for all you do!!

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